Modern Baseball have grown up in real time since 2014’s ‘You’re Gonna Miss It All’. In what they’ve laughed about as “the first album that’s not about girls”, it’s a maturing effort that incorporates a progression from their goofy humored take on adolescence – sometimes used as an emotional diffuser - with a far more serious thematic vulnerability and anxiety. Both are synonymous with the broad emo subgenre, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a band that have defined these subjects with such confidence.
‘Holy Ghost’ is a deeply personal journey for the band’s vocalists Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens. For this record, they adopted the structure of writing and singing half an album each. The idea for ‘Holy Ghost’ is a channel for the guardian, and remembrance for something that has passed but is always with you.
“We didn’t actually decide on the name until after all the songs had been recorded,” Jake clarifies, “but we kind of felt like in a really broad sense it fit the vibe of the record and in a more specific sense, the more I feel about the songs we both wrote it kind of fits with something that you’ve lost and the presence of the thing you’ve lost still kind of being there in a way.”
As well as the band graduating from school - something they had successfully juggled with a hectic touring schedule - Jake’s grandfather passed away last year. He found himself writing songs about him last summer as a way of processing this loss. His grandfather was from a long line of ministers and religious figures in his family (“there’s so much god in my gene pool” he sings on 'You’re Gonna Miss It All' highlight ‘Two Good Things’) and side A loosely covers the role that religion has on his family’s identity.
Brendan Lukens hit a rock bottom last summer with his mental health and has previously spoken publicly about his treatment for bipolar disorder, severe manic depression, alcoholism and high marijuana consumption. The band cancelled an appearance at Reading and Leeds and an Australian tour to allow Brendan the time to get the treatment he needed - a program that he was only discharged from three days before the recording of 'Holy Ghost'. As a result, the writing for Side B was hurriedly written in the studio itself.
The results are far from straight laced sonically – some of the thrashiest songs Modern Baseball have released arrive on the last half. The writing for the record was as close to the wire as it could get - “I think we only had about three or four songs totally finished on day one of recording,” Jake admits.
“I feel like we’re trusting each other and being more open with each other."
— Brendan Lukens
Sean Huber and Ian Farmer - the band's drummer and bassist - weren’t original members, but have been a staple of the live band for the majority of the band's duration. This time around, they were far more prominent in the writing side of things. “With the two of them, it just felt really locked in,” says Brendan. “Ian keeps saying it’s less like copying and pasting all of the parts we had to learn and more like playing our parts together.”
The band released a seventeen-minute documentary entitled Tripping in the Dark to go as an album teaser. The video begins with the formation and history of Modern Baseball - all wrapped up in jokey quips and comical visuals, but the interviews with the band members are their friendships are totally undressed. The band open up about their concern over the self harming and recluse Brendan had become in his apartment following their tour with Say Anything last year, Jake speaks about the fractures in his family after his grandfather's death, as well as how one part of his life ended as a new relationship begun. “[Tripping in the Dark] was natural because we were all doing it together,” explains Brendan. “I feel like we’re trusting each other and being more open with each other more so than ever. I feel like any of us speaking out to truthfully now is because the others have our back.”
One important aspect of the life cycle of an album is touring. Brendan is candid about how this continually changing and exhausting environment affects his illness. “It’s easier to recognise troublesome situations now," he states. "With depression and anxiety, it’s definitely something you need to live with and learn to deal with. I feel like we can lean on each other more so that side of touring in general has definitely become easier.” He cracks a wry smile, adding; “It sort of helps that we can ask for more days off too.”
What’s clear is that in addition to a personal growth, the band have become so much closer as a result. Much more a family than just four musicians that play punk music night after night. The chorus from 'Holy Ghost'’s closer ‘Just Another Face’ is the ultimate catharsis – a replay of “if it’s all the same it’s time to confront this face to face / I’ll be with you the whole way / even if you can’t see it now / we’re proud of what’s to come, and you,” is among the most concise and hard-hitting pieces of guitar music so far this year.
There’s clarity now that the band better understand their own music, their own personal relationships and their place in the world. Given the tumultuous circumstances that clouded the writing and recording sessions, Holy Ghost delivers as a sincere reminder of the importance of looking out for those close to you and the need for reflection.
Modern Baseball's new album 'Holy Ghost' is out now via Run For Cover Records.